Demand for new swimming pools is record high in the GCC, leading to some interesting innovations in the world of pool design. James Boley finds out more.

Rounded shapes are popular in completed pools. (Outdoor pool at Banyan Tree Al Areen
Rounded shapes are popular in completed pools. (Outdoor pool at Banyan Tree Al Areen

Demand for new swimming pools is record high in the GCC, leading to some interesting innovations in the world of pool design. James Boley finds out more.

There has never been a better time to work in swimming pool design and so it would seem no better region for a pool designer to ply his trade right now than in the Middle East.

Pool design is exploding in the region at the moment, according to Nael Attaalla, show manager of trade show Middle East Pool and Spa Exhibition organised by Reed Exhibitions, which takes place this month in Dubai.

"The major boom in the Middle East's construction sector, especially in the UAE, has significantly boosted the demand for swimming pools, spas and related products," he says.

More than US$25 billion is spent annually on trade in pools, spa, recreation centre equipment and accessories in the region, according to Reed.

Unsurprisingly, given the wealth of opportunities, pool designers are flocking to the region, but once they get here, they are finding the Middle East to be no easy ride as clients, particularly in the UAE, demand ever more innovative designs.

"Ten years ago, the Burj Al Arab was just finished and the rest of the hotels were standard hotels. Now people want to have something that's world class, a little different," says Paul Knightley, general manager at Desert Leisure.

Signature pools

With more than 80 new hotels under development in the GCC, hotel operators are up against it to make their properties stand out and one way in which they are seeking to do so is by the creation of a unique swimming pool.

The concept of a signature pool, an identifier of a hotel by its innovative pool, is something that continues to gather momentum in the region.

Examples include the highest suspended swimming pool which is being developed as part of a Limitless project in Jordan and the crisp lines of the pool at the One & Only Royal Mirage in Dubai, while outside of the region, examples of innovative pools include red pools such as The Library hotel in Koh Samui.

Pool as art

A big trend in the region at the moment in swimming pool design is for classic, minimalist designs. "The key trend is simple geometry, strong lines, a very cool and clean minimal aesthetic and decorations," says John Wigham, director at Cracknell.

"It's like modern art almost, the compositions are starting to look like modern art with very simple shapes."

Examples of minimalist pools in the region include the One and Only Royal Mirage in Dubai, and the Royal Pool villa at Banyan Tree Al Areen resort in Bahrain.

Light obsessions

The wellbeing movement is also influencing swimming pool design, with the addition of waves and currents to swim against for exercise.

Features that are typically associated with spas are now crossing over into pool design with elements such as hydrotheraphy jets and bubblers now being requested. "Wellness and spa equipment finds its way into a lot of pools now," notes Knightley.

"Guests can come to the pool and instead of just swimming, they can also do some wellness. That comes into a lot of projects."

The use of light emitting diodes (LEDs) is another key trend, accompanying now-established fibre optics as a way of lighting a pool.

As well as making the pool look dramatic in the evening, LEDs can also make the colour of the water look different by changing the cover on the lights.

LEDS will become increasingly popular in the region gradually replacing more traditional pool lights, predicts Sivan Iswaran, general manager of pool maintenance firm Those Pool Guys.

Some experts, however, question the suitability of LEDs for use in pools. "They're not proven to be as reliable as we all thought they were going to be," comments one firm.

Pool planning

It's a truism but one of the main considerations when designing a pool is thinking about the needs of the person that will use it, says Brent Reid, designer at Hydrolite. "You need to think of anybody who may want to use that area, and everyone is as important as the next person," he says.

This involves considerations not only such as including shade over pools for children and provision of ramps and handholds to enable disabled access, but also cultural preferences such as considering the pool as a social venue and not just a place to swim.

"People like being outside by the pool, but it's really only Europeans who want to sit out there in the sun," points out John Wigham, marketing director at Cracknell.

"What we're looking at now is to create poolside experiences, which run right through from sitting comfortably, having a morning coffee, to having a meal in the evening and perhaps a late night drink or a chat with friends in that pool environment."

In terms of design, this can lead to the creation of larger spaces near to the pool to serve as meeting areas, or smaller sheltered areas that can be used as couple zones.

Climate considerations

The location of a pool and its surroundings need to be carefully considered in this region.

Whereas in most of the world the aim is to heat the water, in the Middle East, it is the opposite with the focus being to cool the water down.

This can be achieved through the use of a cooling plant but also by maximising shade.

"In the kids' pools, you have to have shade over the water," notes Wigham. A variety of materials can be used for shading, but canvas works well, experts say.

Choice of materials is another factor. Pool design experts advise, for example, not to use dark coloured stone, such as black granite, for the surroundings of a pool as it can burn the skin. Decking is one of the best materials, they say, but is both expensive and warps because of the heat.

Dust in pools is another climate related problem in the Middle East. It is difficult to combat this completely but there are things that can be done to alleviate the impact of dust, such as locating the pool in a sheltered area, or using planting near to the pool, which will catch a lot of the sand, experts say.

Trend setting

The climate in the region may not facilitate the design of pools, but the demand for new pools and innovative pool design most certainly does.

Indeed, with an estimated 5,000 new pools expected to be built in the Middle East by 2010 plus a market open to experimentation, it looks as if the region will be setting the trends on pool design for a good few years to come.

Maintenance issues

A swimming pool needs to have its water treated regularly to make sure it stays suitable for public use. Designers need to be aware of the sanitation systems since they can affect the choice of materials used in pool design. For instance, chlorine can be quite corrosive in large amounts.

The majority of pools in the GCC use chlorine dosing for sanitation purpose. However, this can cause problems with a need to store large amounts of chlorine onsite, as well as affecting the skin and eyes when levels are too high.

Other options include saltwater chlorination, which does not require the use of large storage tanks and has lower levels of irritant chemicals.

UV filters and ozone can also be used to sanitise a pool. Experts say these alternative sanitation systems are idea for children's pools since they reduce the amount of exposure to chemicals.

Source: Aqualine International

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